4 Building Materials Hospitals Should Stop Using (And Green Hospital Alternatives)

Green Hospital

When it comes to the healthcare industry, the scale of consumption of materials is staggering. One study referenced figures from 2004, during which the industry consumed $23 billion of durable medical equipment, $32 billion of nondurable medical equipment, and invested an addition $86 billion in structures and medical equipment.

With such a massive amount of funding being channeled into purchases for healthcare facilities, it’s critical that planners and builders alike start doing their jobs with the future and green hospital options in mind. It is essential that the individuals in charge of these projects begin selecting building and component materials that are green and don’t pose needless risks to patient and provider health.

Four Building Materials Hospitals Should Avoid Using

Don’t Use: Carpeting

According to the CDC, carpeting should be left for homes and kept out of medical facilities. Carpets are tougher to clean and sanitize than nonporous flooring alternatives; there’s no reliable way to ensure sanitization of carpeting. If any bodily fluids such as blood and other substances spill, you’re looking at a serious dilemma.

The CDC also mentions studies that have illustrated the presence of bacterial and fungal populations in carpeting. Cloth furnishings also pose huge contamination risks to patients and healthcare professionals alike and should not be utilized in medically-geared areas.

Instead of carpeting, consider using rubber, polyolefin, or linoleum for flooring. While none of these makes for the most eco-friendly or easily-sanitizable flooring, they’re widely lauded as the best options for healthcare facilities. Ideally, future endeavors and research will lead both healthcare and building professionals to optimal solutions that are good for patients and the environment.

Waiting bench and wheel chair outside of doctors office. Green hospital concept

Don’t Use: PVC

PVC offers builders (and the people behind funding a hospital) several benefits. It’s economical, it’s durable, and it’s easy to clean. It even sounds like a great option sanitization-wise, too, because it oftentimes comes coated with an antimicrobial layer to help with infection control.

All of those things would be fantastic if they didn’t come at such a high price. PVC products cannot be manufactured or disposed of in ways that are considered safe. The breakdown of PVC leads to a release of harmful chemicals; and at the end of the day, it doesn’t make sense for the healthcare industry to be relying on something known to be dangerous to humans and the environment.

Instead of PVC, consider using metal products or branching out into CARB I and CARB II-compliant plywood. This plywood can be utilized for treatment tables, carts, and furniture after being treated with water-based topcoats to increase durability. Many small PVC components and tools can be swapped out for metal alternatives. 

Don’t Use: Additive-Adorned Plastics

Some plastics offer the benefit of relatively low negative health impacts; polypropylene is an example of one such plastic. However, materials like these become dangerous and problematic quickly with the addition of hazardous materials.

Unfortunately, additions like these are commonplace in the medical sector. Many healthcare systems rely on halogenated flame retardants to increase safety within medical buildings– they don’t realize, of course, that they may be doing more harm than good by introducing toxins like these to plastics.

Plastics that have undergone stain treatments or that have received applications of phthalates should also be removed in favor of safer and more natural options; understanding the additives that plastics may be arriving with from factories is essential to ensuring patient safety. Builders and planners need to push manufacturers for data on treatments and other conditions in plants before trusting plastics that are sent to them.

Instead of trusting that plastics are additive-free, ask; or, better yet, opt for other more eco-friendly materials. Untreated plastics can be practical for healthcare professionals and safe for patients but aren’t always ideal for the environment. Opt for recycled options when possible. 

Don’t Use: Materials That Come From Fossil Fuels

A host of the recommendations above are less than awe-inspiring for a builder looking to go truly green with their project. Certain things, like the ability to sanitize a material, that contribute to patient safety will always have to be pushed to the forefront in favor of sustainability and real green building. We’ll likely never be able to have wood flooring in hospitals and we’ll always need solid, durable materials for making tools and medical machinery.

With all of that being said, taking steps to select sustainably-sourced and biobased materials (like plastics) can present huge benefits to both patients and the environment. Biobased plastics made from plants are now available for building purposes; plastic polylactic acid (PLA) is one such material– it’s manufactured from corn instead of fossil fuels.

Instead of thoughtlessly opting for obvious or cheap choices, look for alternatives that are undeniably eco-friendly. Modern technology and research has allowed us to reap the benefits of a host of innovative processes; we can now make plastic from corn. Options exist if you’re willing to hunt them down. 

The Takeaway

There are a host of building materials that should be avoided entirely when constructing or renovating a hospital (or any healthcare facility). While not every alternative is perfect, it’s crucial to keep these green hospital options in mind when you’re moving forward with a build or renovation project:

  • Don’t use carpeting
    • Opt for rubber, linoleum, or polyolefin
  • Don’t use PVC
    • Try to integrate metals or CARB I and CARB II-compliant plywood
  • Don’t use chemically-treated plastics
    • Ensure your plastics are additive-free or look for more environmentally-sound materials; keep on the lookout for recycled options
  • Don’t use wasteful materials when there are eco-friendly alternatives
    • Select materials thoughtfully; opt for those that have been created through sustainable practices with a focus on renewability

Provided your team is willing to put the time, effort, and funds into creating a facility that’s safe for patients and the environment, the task is one that’s easily completed. The passage of time and all that’s happened research-wise in the past decade has afforded professionals a level of accessibility to green products that would have been unprecedented ten years ago. With a host of new and exciting materials to choose from, there’s no need at all to feel stuck or trapped as you take on the task of constructing a green hospital.

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